“I’m quite excited about being in Primary 6,” said my son cheerfully last week.
I was surprised at his enthusiasm since we were just talking about the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) looming.
Like many parents whose kids are in Primary 6 this year, I wonder if he will be well-prepared for the national exam. More than that, I wonder if the decisions that my husband and I had made over the years were right for him.
Since he is our eldest, our parenting decisions have been made somewhat by trial and error. We often made up our minds based on our gut feel, at times going against the grain of what is the norm.
These decisions, intended to give our three children a well-rounded childhood, may not necessarily give them a leg up when it comes to academic matters.
When my son was five, we pulled him out of a worksheet-oriented preschool to put him in one that fiercely guarded its twice-a-day playground sessions.
He could not read whole sentences, but instead of signing him up for reading enrichment or Primary 1 preparatory classes, we let him attend drawing and taekwondo lessons because he asked for them.
I figured his preschool was good enough and whatever else he needed to learn, could be picked up in primary school.
When it was time to register for Primary 1, we decided against volunteering to get him into a brand-name school and put him in one near our home so he could save time on travelling and have more time to sleep and play.
When he was lazy in preparing for his maths exam in Primary 3, I decided to leave him be and let him learn the lesson the hard way – his scores plummeted by 20 marks and it was a lesson he has never forgotten.
Group tuition or one-to-one help?
That year, I also gave up trying to coach him in Chinese and signed him up with a popular tuition centre. But we stopped lessons after one semester when I realised he was made to memorise words so difficult, I had never come across them despite taking higher Chinese in secondary school. That was not how I wanted him to improve in a language.
So he did without tuition until the end of last year, when we decided to get him one-to-one help in Chinese.
Doing all the above doesn’t mean my husband and I do not place an emphasis on learning.
We do. We encourage both our son and his eight-year-old sister to read widely, taking them to the library or second-hand bookshops as often as they want.
I remind them to pay attention during lessons and clarify any doubts with their teacher on the spot.
I tell them that homework, if any, must be done to the best of their abilities and remind them to set aside time for revision before examinations.
Bedtime is about 9pm on most days because we want them to concentrate well in school.
We believe in not loading our kids with academic classes, but there is a thought that creeps into my mind once in a while: Am I shortchanging my children by not signing them up for ABC enrichment or XYZ tuition? Especially when many of their friends seem to be attending one class or the other?
I suppose I will never know the answer to that. But what I do know is my son has made a lot of progress in the last five years in school.
Nurturing an appetite for learning
He has changed from being a reluctant reader to a voracious one. He is now more responsible about his schoolwork compared with the time his teacher called me about his incomplete work when he was in Primary 1.
A few stints as an emcee have helped to build his confidence in public speaking.
With football as a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA), he is now fitter and more disciplined. Attending a three-day two-night adventure camp has made him more independent.
So even before he sits the PSLE, I’m thankful for the patience and nurturing by his teachers, the discipline instilled by his coach and CCA teachers, and the friends he has made.
(Also read: How to encourage children to try new sports)
Yet when all is said and done, there is no question that he has to work hard this year. And I know there will be uphill tasks and challenging moments in the coming months.
But seeing his enthusiasm for school last week was a good reminder that while results are important, they are not all that matter.
It would be a pity to kill any enthusiasm for learning with a narrow focus on only the marks he achieves in a single exam. A healthy appetite for learning can only be beneficial in the long run.
Our decisions over the years may not get him top-notch scores, but if it helps in encouraging him to enjoy learning, then that’s already half a parenting battle won.
I’m not sure if he is well-prepared for PSLE, but I’m thankful he is finally willing to work harder for Chinese, rather than just complain about having to regurgitate complex phrases which he does not understand.
I know he understands many science concepts even if he does not always use “key phrases” in answering the questions. I enjoy seeing him relish the challenge of solving difficult mathematics questions, refusing to give up until he gets the answer.
These, and all the non-academic progress he has made, are all important successes in my book.
And they will not be shown in any grade he achieves in the PSLE.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times in 2018.